In a decision which suggests that fire departments faced with
emergencies ought not to be judged too severely with hindsight
under occupational health and safety laws, an Ontario fire
department has been found not guilty of failing to activate an
"accountability system" to track firefighters entering a
The charges arose when one firefighter's self-contained
breathing apparatus failed while he was in the building. He
substantially recovered after the incident.
previous post in March 2012, we reported on how two of the
three charges against The Meaford and District Fire Department had
been dismissed on a motion for a directed verdict of acquittal,
similar to a non-suit.
The particulars – the specific factual allegations
– of the remaining charge alleged that the fire
department "failed to take the reasonable precaution of
activating an accountability system to track firefighters entering
a burning structure". An accountability system tracks
– often by physically displaying information on an
"accountability board" – exactly which
firefighters are on scene and what they are doing.
Although the court found that some of the fire department's
own "Standard Operating Guidelines" were not fully
followed, the particulars of the charge did not allege that the
SOGs were not followed. Further, the particulars did not allege
that the accountability system used was not appropriate. Rather,
the particulars alleged only that an accountability system was not
"activated". The court stated that the Crown must prove
the particulars alleged, not some other alleged violation.
The court found that an accountability system had, in fact, been
"activated" in that, among other things, two firefighters
told the Deputy Chief that they intended to enter the buidling;
another firefighter made a request for a thermal imaging camera;
and another firefighter (who was in the second vehicle to arrive on
site) acted as an accountability officer and retrieved the
This case demonstrates that when the Ministry of Labour lays
charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, it
must prove not only a violation of the named section of the OHSA or
regulations, but it also must prove the specific particulars
alleged. Here, the Crown had not approved a failure to
"activate" an accountability system. The charge was,
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